Hiking on your vacation is an excellent way to experience the natural wonders of a destination. Even if you wouldn’t normally consider yourself a hiker, I can guarantee (okay maybe not really, but there’s a very high probability) you will see something incredible if you …
Tag: travel advice
I recently came across an interesting article; the gist was that more and more frequently, music is driving Millenial’s vacation choices. As I reflected on some of the statistics found in that study, I realized music is a large component of my adventures. This post …
Over Thanksgiving, B and I flew to Miami, Florida. This was a great way to escape the cold winter of Idaho and relax over the holiday. While we were there, we saw lots of wildlife, beautiful beaches and national parks. Southern Florida is rich in national parks–three within a few hundred miles of each other. This is reason enough to visit this area! We highly endorse visiting Florida in the winter and here are our recommendations for eight things to do in Southern Florida.
Explore Everglades National Park
I was super surprised when we arrived at the entrance to Everglades National Park. We went to the visitor’s center and watched the park’s video (I heartily advise everyone to do this at the National Parks). Did you know the Everglades aren’t swampy and marshy? Did you know that they are essentially a huge river that flows out of Lake Okeechobee twenty miles north? How about that there is no other place like it on the planet? Nope, I didn’t know any of those things either.
While at the park, we drove from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center entrance on the east side of the park to the Flamingo Visitor Center on the south part of the park, a drive of about an hour. Along the way, we stopped and walked many hiking trails, the highlight being the Anhinga Trail, where we saw lots of birds and alligators.
Take an airboat ride at Everglades Alligator Farm
If you are driving out to the Everglades, you will undoubtedly see signs for the Everglades Alligator Farm. This is a kitschy but well done outdoor zoo kind of thing that had tons of alligators that you can look at or learn about through the performances. Normally, B and I would not go out of our way to visit a place like this. However, I really wanted to go on an airboat ride and the admission to the Alligator Farm includes one. All the other airboat vendors were at the north part of the park, about an hour drive from where we were. For $20, we got to see all the alligators we could wish to and take a spin on an airboat. Very loud, but very cool.
Swim at Bay of Biscayne National Park
This national park is very unique because it is mainly under water. Visitors can catch boats out to different keys and snorkel and scuba dive. I had done some research and found that you could rent kayaks near the visitor center. Unfortunately, the company that handles rentals had an issue with their insurance so we weren’t able to kayak around the mangroves. Instead we decided to sign up for an evening cruise at sunset, which was very affordable at around $20 for an hour ride. If I visited this park again, I would want to take one of the snorkeling trips. We had planned on snorkeling later on our trip so we bypassed it this time around.
Kayak at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Since we were unable to kayak at Bay of Biscayne, we popped into Pennekamp State Park on our way to Key West. This park is at the end of the Bay and is quite beautiful. We rented kayaks and went on a nice little trail through mangrove forests.
Make the effort to see Dry Tortugas National Park
To get to the remote former military fort that is Dry Tortugas National Park, you either have to take a boat or a seaplane from Key West. We opted for a plane and were heartbroken when the weather got too rough for the plane to fly. I’m including it on this list of things to do in Southern Florida, though, because I know it is amazing. Even if I wasn’t able to get there this trip, I will go at some point.
Drive a convertible
I fully believe it is worth spending a little more on a convertible when renting a car in a tropical place. We had a great time driving a Mustang around Hawaii, and went with a Camaro for our Florida trip. If you have a Costco membership, the car rental service through Costcotravel.com is a great option. You can get a good price for the car, but also can add an additional driver at no charge.
The road from the edge of Florida down to Key West takes you through lots of different keys (quick lesson: a key is an island that is built on coral reef) and over lots of bridges. The coolest bridge is a remarkable seven miles long. We cruised down this with the top down and lovely blue water to our right and left.
Enjoy Key West
I wasn’t sure what to think about Key West, but I was pleasantly surprised. We walked around downtown and I was really impressed with the lovely architecture of the buildings and homes. This place has history, from Hemingway’s house (we didn’t go in) to an old Civil War fort (we totally went in). There were clearly a lot of tourists here, but it didn’t feel like the town sold its soul for the sake of attracting people. We stayed at a nice resort away from the center of town, but I think next time I’ll pony up the extra dough and stay in the thick of things.
Eat Key Lime Everything
When we got to Key West, I vowed to eat Key Lime pie every day. In retrospect, this was a bit rash, but man is the Key Lime pie here good. We recommend Kermit’s, although, not the frozen option. On our way back to Miami in Key Largo, we picked up a Key Lime Shake at Mrs. Macks. I’m pretty sure anytime I’m ever in Key Largo in the future I’ll make sure to do this. So good!
Some additional logistics
Amount of time
We left Boise on Thanksgiving Day. We wondered if there would be a lot of people at the airports, but they were surprisingly calm. If you count the travel days getting there and flying home, we were gone for seven days. This was the perfect amount of time for what we wanted to do.
We stayed in three different locations, but the last night was spent right next to the Miami airport so we could easily catch our flight the next morning. B and I prefer to spend at least two nights in the same place, with the nights of arrival or departure being the exceptions to the rule. For our first few nights, B had done a little research and decided that the area around Homestead would be our Homebase (see what I did there). It was a perfect location as it was close to both Everglades and Bay of Biscayne National Parks. For our other nights, we decided to stay in Key West.
As the Key West hotel was going to be pretty expensive, we wanted to save some money for our other nights. Interestingly, AirBnbs were not the cheapest option, so I found a Travelodge. I mention it here because it was one of my favorite hotels we’ve stayed at. Partially because my expectations were low and partially because it was such a value for our money. If you are ever in Florida City, Florida, do yourself a favor and check into this motel. When I was checking out, I learned that this little motel routinely wins best Travelodges in North America at their annual convention. Lucky us!
It’s always nice to break up winter with a little jaunt to warmer climates. We had a wonderful time exploring this part of the country over Thanksgiving break. If you are lucky enough to do so also, make sure to do these eight things in Southern Florida and bask in the sun and key limes.
I tried out a number of new (to me) travel-related products in 2018. Some were real winners and made my trips easier, while others were just okay and not really worth the hassle. Interestingly enough, none were duds. Below, in no particular order, are my …
Finding the perfect Airbnb (for you) is not an impossible feat. However, it is not always a walk in the park either. If finding the right place to stay using Airbnb has been a struggle for you in the past, fear not. R and I have learned a few things over the years that help us find great places to stay all over the world. Today I am going to share my Airbnb reservation tips and tricks with you to help you nab the perfect place to stay on your next vacation.
Note: if you are new to Airbnb, check out this post on why you should give it a try.
Airbnb Reservation Tips and Tricks
Step 1: Begin your search
Plug in your location, dates and number of guests. Voila! Observe the results. Hopefully, you have a lot to choose from. If that is the case, it is time to start applying filters.
Step 2: Apply filters
Get as specific as possible to start (you might as well shoot for the moon). At a minimum, I filter by home type, number of beds and price. I also like amenities like self check-in and free parking on premises (if we have a car). If the results are too limiting once you have chosen all of your filters, then you can start removing the less-critical items.
Step 3: Familiarize yourself with the map
Make friends with the map on the search results page. First off, the map is great for narrowing or widening your search. If you know you want to stay in a particular part of town (e.g. Old Town), then you might as well zoom in and look at your options there. Similarly, if you don’t mind staying in the small town down the road, go ahead and zoom out. The search results adjust as you move the map (assuming you checked the “search as I move the map” box).
Also, if you find a place you want to look at in more detail, the map on the search results page is more helpful than the map on the actual listing. The actual listing’s map just gives you the general location of the property, which may be all you need. But if you want to know the exact street, look for the location of the property on the search results page instead.
Step 4: Read the description…in detail
After choosing a place you want to learn more about, make sure to read the description text in detail. You can learn a lot in those paragraphs. For example, you may learn it is a two-minute walk to public transportation, which is useful if you do not have a car. A lot of descriptions tell you which type of bed (e.g. queen, sofa bed, bunk bed, crib, etc.) is located in each room, which I find to be very useful. You might also learn that there are grocery stores or museums nearby. Or you might learn something that turns you off of the property all together. You will not know though, unless you read it.
Step 5: Pour over the photos
The photos are my favorite part when it comes to finding a great Airbnb. It is fun to see how cute your potential lodging will be. But honestly, their most useful feature is their ability to verify information from the listing. If you are looking for a place with two bedrooms, make sure you find photos showing two different bedrooms. Oftentimes, a host considers the living room a second bedroom. I do not. Photos help so you will not be disappointed when you arrive.
Step 6: Review the reviews
First off, make sure there are reviews. If there are no reviews yet, carefully consider your risk threshold. Without reviews, it is tough to know if a host is legit and you might find yourself with a last-minute cancellation. If the property is located in a place with a lot of hotels, this might not be a big deal. If it is located in a small town where you do not speak the language, it might be a big deal.
Good reviews are good, obviously. But the reviews can also tell you additional facts about the property. One time, we were considering a really cute property that seemed to check all of our boxes. However, the reviews revealed that the property’s only bathroom was only accessible via an outside entrance. Given that we were going to be visiting in December, we said no thanks. Little, but important, details like that are often shared by past guests.
Lastly, check the reviews for cancellations. The review section makes a note whenever a host cancels and how much notice they gave the canceled party. Emergencies happen, I get that. But I would be wary of a host with too many cancellations, especially if they gave very little notice.
Step 7: Contact the host
If you cannot verify something on your own using the Airbnb reservation tips and tricks above, do not hesitate to contact the host and ask a question. Most respond very quickly. If they do not respond quickly or do not answer your question adequately, I would hesitate to book with them. What happens when something goes wrong DURING your stay? You want a responsive host.
Final step: clarify your booking
When you have finally found the perfect Airbnb for your next trip and are going through the booking process, be sure to mention critical items in the notes field. If you are booking a place because it says a crib is available, make sure to note that you are booking their place because there is a crib available.
R and I look for and pay more for places with two beds. More than once, we have arrived at a location where the host has only made up one bed assuming we would be sharing. Lesson learned. Now days, we always make mention of two beds in the notes when we are booking.
Follow these Airbnb reservation tips and and tricks and you will be well on your way to booking the Airbnb of your dreams…or one that meets your specific travel needs anyway. Finding a great Airbnb has made many of my trips an even more enjoyable experience. I want you to be able to say the exact same thing so good luck with your Airbnb searching!
Note: if you haven’t yet signed up for Airbnb, use my referral link to receive a $40 credit.
We have talked about the importance of traveling with quality clothes and gear. The right clothes can make a big difference on how comfortable you are out on the road. They also help with packing light. However, finding affordable travel clothes for women can sometime …
Unfortunately, not-so-fun travel moments happen. It is not all hearts and flowers and there are definitely some unpleasant moments on the road. For me, those parts pale in comparison to all of the fun stuff. However, I think it might be worth mentioning the not-so-fun …
Travel resolutions and goals are the best in my opinion. 2017 was an incredible year for travel. I knocked off not one, but two bucket list items (Australia and the Azores), had a lovely Christmas in Europe and experienced many, many weekend adventures. I am hoping 2018 is just as full and fun. My goal for life is to travel more. It is a running resolution and not something I give special consideration to at the beginning of each year. However, if you have made travel a resolution for 2018, we have got some tips for you. Below are 10 suggestions (all starting with S for some reason) to help you achieve your travel goals in 2018:
1. Set a reasonable resolution or goal
The keyword here is reasonable. If you have a hard time taking off work for more than one week at a time, it may not be reasonable to plan a two-week vacation somewhere without internet access. One week, or even ten days, may be a reasonable goal however. If you have never left the country before, it may not be reasonable to plan a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. On the other hand, a guided tour through Vietnam may be a reasonable option. They key to sticking to your New Year’s resolutions is setting one that you actually have a chance of accomplishing. Be realistic with yourself.
It is all well and good to say you want to travel more this year. But what does that mean? I find it harder to meet lofty, big-picture goals than I do something specific. Perhaps your goal could be to use your passport at least once. Or perhaps take an out-of-state road trip. Big or small does not really matter, just try to get a little specific. That will help in planning and executing your travel goals.
3. Start small
Take a road trip this weekend. Visit a friend two states over. When it comes to a travel resolution, no one said you had to go big or go home. If that two-week dream vacation to Italy is unrealistic, do something that is realistic. We wrote a post all about girls weekends. Those are a great way to start to travel more.
Of course, we have big travel plans for 2018. But we also have some smaller adventures planned and those are just as enjoyable as the big ones, they just do not last as long.
4. Save the date
Time moves so quickly. Before you know it, summer will be here. The time to make travel plans for 2018 is NOW. Pick a date and tell your boss. Pick out a date and book something. Or pick a date and ask your friends to join you. Just pick a date.
5. Sign up for alerts
Not only are travel alerts good reminders, but they keep you excited and engaged in planning. I especially enjoy Scott’s Cheap Flights and Travelzoo’s Top 20, but there are plenty of options out there.
We often discuss the places we want to travel to in the future. That way we are both on the lookout for good deals. Not long ago, I got an alert for low fares to various cities in Eastern Europe. Since that was an area we had been discussing, we wasted no time in furthering our research on those low fares. Turns out, the timing and the price was right. So we booked. Would that have happened without the alert? Maybe. But getting that prompt is what prompted us to act and make our plans official. Now we are on our way to checking off a resolution for 2018.
6. Share your goals
Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. You never know who in your circle may be hoping to do some more travel this year as well. Or perhaps someone in your circle has advice on where to go next. I get most of my destination ideas from talking to my coworkers. And I cannot count the number of times I have mentioned an upcoming trip to someone and they have said, “Have you talked to so-and-so? They were recently there.” Or “So-and-so is originally from there. You should talk to them.” Great things usually come about when you talk travel. But you will not know unless you open your mouth and talk about your resolution plans.
7. Save, save, save
You will never see those travel dreams come true if you do not start saving. I know I have harped on this in the past, but I cannot say enough about the benefits of setting up a separate account with an automatic deposit. It was a game changer for me in terms of saving for travel. If money is your biggest obstacle when it comes to travel, even a small amount each month gets you that much closer to your goals. (Click here to learn more about budgeting and saving for a trip.)
A year ago, I was in the final stages of saving for a month-long trip to Australia. It was the most expensive trip I had even taken. Not only was the country itself expensive, but I was going to be there a lot longer than I am usually gone. It took two years to save up for that trip. I was lucky enough that I did not have to stop all fun while I was saving, but I did have to make some adjustments. The smartest decision I made though, was setting up an automatic deposit. After I returned home from that epic adventure, I left that account and automatic deposit in place. It has become my official travel fund and I enjoy watching it grow over time knowing it will lead to more adventures.
8. Simplify your life
If you are too busy to travel, and you want to travel, perhaps it is time to cut something from your life. I realize this is easier said than done. Do you watch a lot of television? Perhaps now is the time to get rid of that cable bill. You will spend your free time getting stuff done, freeing up time to go on vacation, and you will save money as well. Maybe you have too many hobbies. Or perhaps you work too much. There is no right answer for this one, but I believe simplifying your life will make you happier overall and make it easier to travel.
9. Seek out new places
Just because you cannot go far, does not mean you cannot see cool stuff. There are probably plenty of places near you that are worth a visit. When R suggested a weekend visit to North Cascades National Park, I told her that I had never heard of it. Good thing she had. What an amazing place! Sure, Yellowstone and Yosemite are also amazing. But they are full of people. Try something new and a little different. You may be surprised by what is out there.
10. Seize unique opportunities
You never know when a chance for fun will manifest itself. The Azores had been on my bucket list for almost 10 years. Still, I had no plans to visit them in 2017. However, an opportunity came about that I could not pass up. I was supposed to attend training in Boston for work. When the training fell through, I was left with a plane ticket to Boston. My company would have refunded me the ticket. Instead, I kept the ticket and bought another plane ticket to São Miguel in the Azores. I was already planning on being out of the office that week, so why not make it a vacation instead? That was a most excellent decision and one I do not regret in the least.
Bonus: Staycation it
I am not an expert at staycations. In fact, I have never taken one. However, I feel like they have a lot of benefits and are a good use of vacation time, especially if you live somewhere where other people like to travel to. My friend in Arizona will often book a hotel stay and spa treatment at one of the resorts in the Phoenix area. In the off-season, she can get great deals. It is a great way to feel pampered, take it easy and check out for a while—without the added stress of leaving home. I may just have to give this a try someday. Perhaps I will make it a resolution next year.
2018 is a brand new year full of possibilities and travel opportunities. If you made a New Year’s resolution to travel more, great! Get to it! A few simple steps can help you achieve your goals and bring a lot of joy to the upcoming year.
Recently, I was asked to be on a panel at work to discuss work-life balance. Apparently, the organizers felt my tendency to travel whenever possible qualified me for the position. I was skeptical and not anxious to participate. However, I did not want to be …